12 years after the club’s last trip to Northumberland, Sarah, Naomi, Rob, Stephen, Dan and Stephen’s friend, Becky, made a triumphant return in July 2019.
I shamelessly borrowed from Chris Stephens’ brilliantly researched trip selection from 2007 and just altered the order to suit the tides for our visit.
Day 1 saw us set out to circumnavigate Lindisfarne. I had worked out that we stood our best chance of completing it if we started about 3 hours before a high water on springs and went anticlockwise, so we started our paddle from the harbour at the unusually late hour of 5pm. After launching, we quickly passed the castle in deep water and proceeded round to the north west of the island where the fun began. There was meant to a navigable channel running due south to the refuge tower. It turned out that I had made a slight miscalculation with my tidal planning (simply relying on North Shields predictions) and we had just missed high water. The sea grew increasingly shallow as we approached the causeway. Whoops! Most of us got out and waded for a bit, but Rob gamely remained in his boat punting off the sand, so he could claim a true circumnavigation. Stopping on the causeway by the road warning sign gave us an excellent photo opportunity and Rob was able to investigate the source of a leak in his 3 piece kayak. We continued on our way and as we neared the harbour we were surrounded by what must have been hundreds of seals, swimming and diving. This was one of those unforgettable wildlife experiences that come along ever now and again when you kayak. Adding to the slightly surreal atmosphere, we then had a chat with the friendly local vicar who was paddling around on a sit on top with a teenager for company. We landed just before it grew dark and went for a celebratory pint in the town until it was safe to drive back over the causeway.
Day 2 saw us paddling over to Coquet island (pronounced ‘Coke-it’ apparently). We rejected the dunes to the south of Amble for our launch point (too long a portage at low tide) and made our way instead to the harbour. This was a good choice, because we were able to launch by the coquet island canoe club’s shed where there is a slipway. They were very hospitable and offered to let us paddle with them later in the week if we wanted (sadly, we failed to fit that in). The estuary offered a nice view of Warkworth castle and was home to eider ducks. The sea was calm with good visibility and the crossing was straightforward. You can’t land on the island, but it is home to lots of seals and roseate terns and offered Becky a first experience of a crossing which she handled very well.
Day 3 was rainy, so we decided not to paddle. We had hired a National Trust bunkhouse at Cragside, near Rothbury, which was perfect for our purposes – spacious, with good cooking and showering facilities and a large lounge with waiting room-type chairs. We had a lot of fun wandering around the grounds and house on our day off. In the evening we went to the Barter bookshop and then the John Bull inn on Alnwick to hear some local folk music (featuring Northumberland pipes) and sample some tasty real ales.
Day 4 saw us return to the water, but not for long. Rather ambitiously, I had planned a one way trip from Craster harbour to Alnmouth’s estuary, but we soon aborted. The sea was too choppy for our group, with swell from strong northerly winds the previous day. At one point a seal popped up his head as if to enquire what we were doing floundering around in such tricky conditions. It was also cold and cloudy, so Becky and I opted to dry out and warm up in a nice tea shop and in the shop of Robson’s famous kipper smokehouse, while the others ventured back out on the water to view Dunstanburgh castle to get their money’s worth from the £5 harbour fee.
In day 5, i chose a less ambitious there-and-back trip from the st aidan’s dunes north of Seahouses to Beadnell harbour which we were able to complete. The sea was settling down again, although probably too much, because at one point, uncharacteristically, Rob nodded off and gave Stephen some rescue practice. Beadnell harbour smelt horrid, but the historic lime kilns were interesting and the beach was lovely in the sunshine, so I took a brief deliberate swim (although in my wetsuit, rather than in my puffin speedos). The epic portaging back at the dunes in Seahouses led to some comical scenes when Rob’s boat got stuck in the dunes.
On the final day we tackled the blue ribbon trip for every visit to Northumberland – a crossing to the Farne islands. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sea was very calm. The lack of strong tides close to slack water on neaps made launching at the dunes on the Wynding close to Bamburgh castle a better option than the dunes closer to Seahouses. At the car park we met a very pleasant couple preparing to launch a double kayak who showed us their navigation plan and passed on some useful local knowledge. We all made it out through the surf without incident, but then swiftly decided to split the group into two subgroups. My subgroup headed straight to Inner Farne to see the puffins, guillemots and arctic terns, and the other group made it out as far as Longstone lighthouse in the outer Farnes – graded C (difficult) in Jim Krawiecki’s excellent “Northern England and IOM: fifty great sea kayak voyages”. They were even sufficiently confident to decline politely the offer of the local paddlers to paddle with them. Stephen, Becky and I were able to follow Rob, Sarah and Naomi’s progress using our walkie talkies and we all met up again on Inner Farne to see the nesting birds at close quarters before paddling back across the sound triumphantly together. There was just time for a bit of practising in the surf before we packed up our boats for the final time and headed off for dinner and a walk to Dunstanburgh castle ruins in the twilight.
My thanks go to everyone for allowing me to reenact one of my favourite sea kayaking holidays and enjoy it just as much. Specific thanks should go to Stephen and Rob for providing the safety cover on the water, to Sarah for finding a load of paddling kit I had mislaid and to Naomi for doing most of the cooking. Home baked chocolate cake for breakfast with a clean conscience – life doesn’t get much better than that!
More photos here